Tuesday, December 13, 2011

MIDDLE EAST WRAP: ROCKETS CONTINUE TO FALL ON ISRAEL

A Qassam rocket being displayed at Sderot Town Hall against the backdrop of those killed in rocket attacks

A round-up of the Hebrew newspapers in Israel; covering the major events happening in Israel and the Middle East. Haaretz-Maariv-Yedioth Ahronoth-Israel Hayom-The Jerusalem Post-Ynet-Arutz 7 News 

The lead headlines in three Israeli newspapers on Monday were about Defense Minister Ehud Barak, following his comments on the likely destiny of beleaguered Syrian President Bashar Assad. MaarivIsrael Hayom and Haaretz all lead with Barak's speech at the World Policy Conference in Vienna, where the defense minister said that the downfall of Syrian President Bashar Assad would be a 'blessing to the Middle East and predicted that the Assad regime will fall within weeks.

 “We are witnessing the last days of fighting between forces loyal to the Assad family and the rebels,' Barak said. “This is the continuation of the deterioration of the Assad family that will lead to the end of its rule. The Assad family and its loyalists killed to date more than 4,000 people across Syria and is headed towards the end of its rule. The Arab League decided to impose sanctions on Syria and Jordan’s King Abdullah also expressed his opinion regarding the Syrian regime. He also said that it will be impossible to know who will rule in Syria after the Assad regime, but in any case, this would be a blow to the Iran-Hizbollah axis.”

 Haaretz, also reported on its front page that Barack has approved the expansion of the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, by giving the green light to the establishment of a new, permanent neighborhood and a farm near the West Bank settlement of Efrat. The paper says that the projects will go beyond the community's currently built-up area, constituting an effective expansion of the Etzion Bloc of settlements toward the north and north-east. After they are completed, the report adds, Jewish settlement in northern Gush Etzion will reach the edges of Bethlehem's southernmost suburbs.

 The Jerusalem Post leads with the cabinet voting unanimously to finance a $160 million program to stop the flow of illegal African migrants by speeding up the building of a 240-kilometer long fence along the border with Egypt to help keep refugees out. The money would also be allocated to expand holding facilities at the border.  Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday, December 11th, that the African refugee issue was a problem for Israel both economically and socially and a threat to its infrastructure and internal security. He stressed that Israel has no responsibility to absorb the illegal migrants and it was essential to stop the flood coming into the country.

 In other news, Israel continues to face rocket attacks on two of its borders. The tensions along the Gaza border, which increased sharply late last week when the Israeli Air Force killed four Palestinians in what it claimed were strikes against terrorists, continued all weekend. There has been a constant stream of Qassam rockets and mortars landing across southern Israel since Friday, December 9th; the latest came overnight Monday, following several hours of calm in the area.

The Associated Press reports that a rocket fired from Lebanon on Sunday night toward Israel fell short and wounded a Lebanese woman. The attack came nearly two weeks after rockets fired from Lebanese territory hit Israel for the first time in two years. It also follows rising concerns that the conflict in neighboring Syria may spill across the border. Arutz 7 News adds that the Abdullah Azzam Brigade group, allied with Al Qaeda, said it was behind the rocket launch. The group said it also carried out the firing of approximately four rockets at Israeli territory two weeks ago.

All the papers continue to cover the fall-out from comments by Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich, who claimed last week that there was no such thing as a Palestinian people. The Arab League official for Palestinian affairs has condemned Gingrich's assertion as 'irresponsible and dangerous.' The statement accused Gingrich of sacrificing U.S. interests for votes, and that the comments run counter to democratic values and international agreements.

 Gingrich stood by his remarks during another Republican candidates' debate this weekend. He argued that what he said is factually correct and historically true. He said it was time someone spoke the truth about the nature of Israel's struggle with the Palestinians. Recent opinion polls show Gingrich well ahead of his Republican rivals.

Meanwhile, the IDF is investigating the death of Mustafa Tamimi, a Palestinian protestor who was seriously hurt after being hit by a gas grenade during Friday's weekly protest in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, and died of his wounds Saturday at the Rabin Medical Center in Petah Tikva. Eyewitnesses said Tamimi, a Nabi Saleh resident in his 30s, was hit in the eye by a gas grenade at close range. The demonstrators also claimed that four other people were lightly hurt in clashes with the IDF.‏

And finally, Professor Alan Dershowitz told the annual Globes business conference in Tel Aviv on Monday, December 12th that Israel has every legal and moral right to stage a preemptive strike on Iran. He also said he wants to hear U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speak out more strongly against Iran. Dershowitz stated that regardless of whether or not it would be wise for Israel to attack, 'Israel has the right morally and legally to strike Iran just as it did on [the nuclear facility in] Iraq in 1981. Having the right to attack does not mean that it should do so, but I would defend Israel’s right.'

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